Independence Day: Interview: David Arnold (Page 1)

ArnoldComposer David Arnold is world famous for his work on five James Bond films and numerous other movie scores, as well as the West End show Made in Dagenham. One of the first movies he worked on was Independence Day and to mark the 20th anniversary of the blockbuster, the film is being screened at the Royal Albert Hall on September 22nd with a live orchestra playing the score and Arnold giving a talk beforehand. At the end of May, he chatted about all things ID4, Bond and much more with Paul Simpson…




Independence Day 22 September 2016When I last rewatched Independence Day, I noticed there were various places where a bar or even a couple of beats were just repeated, particularly round the time when the aliens unleash their weapon; are those being smoothed for the screening?

Basically we’re going through the score. When we recorded it, it had been through several incarnations before cinema release where special effects came in that were good, so they extended scenes; some came in that weren’t so good, so they shortened them. Even on the dubbing stage there was quite a lot of chopping and changing going on, so the score that we actually have is probably 80% faithful to what you’re hearing on the screen, but the other 20% needs to be reconfigured.

There are bits that are a little bit ugly in the chopping process which we are addressing and creating a musically more satisfying solution, as we would if we’d been asked to change it on the day. You’re there in front of the orchestra and someone says “we’ve added two or three seconds there”, you try and go back and sweeten those things so they’re not so ugly in the edit.

The amount of things like that that get noticed by an audience generally is pretty small – obviously you being a specialist will recognise when that happens. Most people don’t.

INDEPENDENCE-DAYWhen that sort of cut is made, are you involved in the decision?

No, that gets done on the dub stage when they’re dubbing the film. I could attend, but to a certain extent I feel like I have to trust the filmmakers to make the best decision for the film.

It’s not always going to be in the best interests of the film overall to have the scriptwriter or the composer or the sound effects guys going, “I think the music should be louder”; “I think the dialogue should be louder”, “I think the special effects should be louder”. To a certain extent you’ve got to leave it to the mix engineer to make those decisions alongside the director.

I probably would have tried to find a way of doing it differently but so would a million other people. I’ve been through a few playbacks and had some notes, but generally in the day to day running of it, like an actor has to do with their performance, you do your best and you hand it over. You have to hope they’re going to use the best bits and not cut it so you look like an idiot, and they don’t put a reaction [shot] in that’s got nothing to do with what was on the day but was from another day – all those things.

You have to trust the filmmakers to make the right decision for the film. If the director can’t make that right decision, then who else have we got, because he’s the one who’s supposed to be telling us all what to do.

quantum-of-solace greeneIn Quantum of Solace, I believe you said you wrote suites of music that were then put in as appropriate rather than scoring specifically to each scene. Was that a reaction to this process or just what was appropriate to that project?

It wasn’t [a reaction]; it started with Quantum of Solace. Marc Forster asked me to do it.

I hadn’t done it before. I’d always read the script, come up with ideas, see a rough cut of the film, come up with more ideas, perhaps send a theme off, then start putting stuff to picture and sending scored sequences so they can see how it feels to the picture.

Marc had an interesting approach: he put together little five minute sequences of character bits – so for Dominic Greene, he put a montage of Dominic Greene scenes, so I got a feel of how he was. Not necessarily what he was doing in a particular scene because that can be quite prescriptive; it was the places, the locations he went to. I found it really inspiring because [that way] I’m writing to how I feel about character, which is always important. When you’re coming up with material, the emotional heart of it is the key, and structuring it for the story is almost a different skill set, but you need to have the material in the first place to be able to structure it for the storyteller.

Quantum operaIt started off with that, and that whole “Night at the Opera” cue was the Quantum theme, based on what I’d seen and what I’d read. I hadn’t seen it structured in the film.

We were able to come up with quite a few ideas for that which Marc used as temps in various places, and quite possibly used them in places where, had I seen the scene naked, I would have done something different.

In a way it was a nice surprise for me, and it made the music somehow more exciting and interesting from my perspective. You see anything used in a different context it somehow gives it a different life. Like if you see a great song in a movie: “Stuck in the Middle with You” was a brilliant song, but then see it in Reservoir Dogs in that scene, and all of a sudden it has a completely different feel to it and it attains a different sort of significance, which I thought was really interesting.

One of the things I loved about the Quantum score was that it felt pulled back from the high energy of Casino Royale and Die Another Day

quantum_of_solace11And don’t forget also it was a good 30 to 40 minutes shorter. That 30 to 40 minutes shorter was largely action. What you had in those films was large extended action sequences that took up a lot of time and required a lot of music and a lot of noise in terms of sound design, effects, everything. They’re big sequences. Quantum of Solace didn’t have that.

The film was 108 minutes long and the score was only an hour long, whereas it’s almost two hours long in Casino Royale. To a certain extent you can make more of the material that you’ve got; it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Not that you can’t make a two hour score interesting, of course you can, but when you’re dealing with two or three themes for a film, if you have more than that, it gets lost and there’s nowhere to play it frequently enough for it to make sense. Obviously what we were doing, it had more of an impact because there was less music, less film. It felt leaner in that respect.

Also I was quite keen on scaling back the excesses aspect. Die Another Day was an excessive film in every respect; ultimately my responsibility is to score the film that I’m seeing, what’s in front of me. If you think the music is over the top in places, you only have to look [at the film] – at some point there’s a guy who’s been in a machine that has changed his genetic makeup and he’s got a remote control on his arm which is controlling a giant space laser which is melting an ice palace!

It’s not Merchant Ivory!

No – we’re not panning across a room with a solo clarinet as we settle on a photo of someone in their nineties! It required that sort of music, it demanded it.

Cues like “Antonov” are great action music…

toby_stephens_2002_11_07Also they’re massive scenes and it’s climactic as well. The thing about Die Another Day, there were a lot of climaxes. “It can’t get any bigger than that, can it?” And then they make an attempt to do exactly that. It was an interesting film in that respect.

Quantum of Solace is the complete opposite in a way – it’s certainly more restrained. The characters were more restrained, and I think possibly I enjoyed the music for that a lot.

It felt like it was starting a different sort of journey – having set up Daniel as Bond in Casino Royale and welcomed Bond back in the cut-to-black at the end of the movie and the Bond theme, you then have this leaner, more muscular, controlled music for Quantum of Solace because he was more that than the blunt instrument that he was in Casino Royale.

Click here for part 2,  in which David Arnold discusses the creation of the scores for Stargate and Independence Day, as well as the differences between film scoring and working on the stage musical of Made in Dagenham

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